Road to Joy (with apologies to Inside Out)

Ugh, you call that a plot point?

360 days out of 365 I hate writing. Okay, you got me: that’s a writer’s hyperbole. But honestly, these days, between producing the movie and pounding the day job, the time to sit and write has been rare and what has come out, a sad, dull trickle.

It hasn’t mattered much, apart from adding to the mounting dread that when someone says what’s coming next, there’ll be no amazing script to whip out and send. And that I’ll never make another movie.

Turns out shepherding the current movie to the screen is work enough. And the demands of the day tend to sabotage creative pursuits. The bills come first. The kids come first. No one needs your writing. No one needs your new script. (The irony of having a script produced is you realize how much the nameless “they” really do need you writing, but it’s when you’re on set trying to solve a last minute problem so a whole cast and crew don’t just stand around.) It’s a lot different when you’re in the spec stage staring at the blank page, when it’s just an idea, no money, no talent, there’s nothing pressing about it. So it can always be put on pause.

But I remember this writer one time on one of these panels that used to be weekly gifted to us as grad students talking about how miserable he would be when he didn’t write. Like he’d be fighting with his girlfriend and hate his job and his food wouldn’t taste right and after about a week or two he’d realize what it was…it was the not writing. And he’d fix it. And he’d feel better.

So I did the drastic thing to force me to feel better, to have to write. I signed up to a formal workshop. Yep. Turns out I need something more regular than my tribe. Something I pay for that I have to show up to every week…and I have more or less, apart from the one time I couldn’t get a sitter.

Getting back into writing in a workshop setting has been like setting the time machine back to when I first moved to New York. I’ve gotten to relive that rush of entering a room full of strangers with their stories and voices that you’ll come to know, maybe for a lifetime, maybe for a couple of weeks. The only downside, it’s been pretty rusty cranking up the old machine…though it is a relief that the gears still work. And although it’s been satisfying, it’s been joyless. I’ve been getting it done but not loving it. I’ve been writing to avoid the malaise that comes with the not writing. A bit like how you hit the gym, put in your minimum time on the treadmill and tick it off the to-do list.

And then, last night, joy returned. I totally wasn’t expecting it. The “ama” of the amateur. At this point it’s hard for me to write without thinking like a producer or thinking of the production, being cognizant of the gears and mechanics. But after having survived the ten to twelve pages of a serviceable set-up, I got into a scene and it just clicked. The characters, the rhythm, the story…and ooh, look, a shiny new character trait for me to have fun with for the next eighty pages!!! And I remember how good it can feel to write. To laugh and delight and to think and to get lost. Quite impossibly, once again, I love this screenwriting life.

Yipee. I get to write!